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Rwanda’s Mountain Gorillas Population Is Growing

People oftentimes hear about various species becoming endangered and great lengths being taken to protect the numbers that are left. However, because such instances tend to be so distant and far away, many think that the efforts are useless. That’s why the mountain gorillas of Rwanda have been such a different case.

For generations, the gorillas have been profiled in National Geographic magazines, nature shows, TV specials, books, magazines and more. And as a result, unlike many other threatened species, the Rwandan gorillas have been watched and seen, year after year. Much of that exposure has been due to the work of Dian Fossey, a naturalist and scientist who put herself with the threatened gorillas, both to study them and protect the animals. Because of her work, Rwandan gorillas became visible and, more importantly, became a priority for the world. That made a difference.

When Fossey first started, the gorillas were down to 254 individuals, a miniscule number given they were the last of their species in the entire world. Amazingly, that number has now almost tripled. Further, there is now an additional 400 more in adjacent Uganda as well. It has taken decades, and Fossey’s work triggered a massive response partnership with government, scientists, conservationists, and human communities in the vicinity. The results have produced a chance of survival for the gorillas, something they didn’t have when Dian Fossey got started.

Locally, the mountain range that makes up the home area for the gorillas is known as Virunga Volcanoes. However, it was Fossey who gave them the title of the Gorillas in the Mist, a name that stuck and became popular in spreading awareness about the endangered animals.

Dian Fossey has since passed, but many dedicated personnel continue her work locally with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, a non-profit committed to the gorilla’s research and protection. That was well after Fossey herself spent 18 years plus working practically alone before her work gained attention. She was part of a critical group in anthropology, and shared work with names like Jane Goodall as well.

Today, the gorillas are part of a government-protected sanctuary. And they are not isolated in obscurity. Instead, the government allows groups of visitors, limited to a handful per trip, to travel with an expert and see the gorillas in person. The experience is both an income generator for additional protection as well as a chance for people to be educated in person about the Rwandan gorilla colony in its home. Additionally, the income helps the local villages as well, which goes a tremendous way in preventing poaching, a key activity locals were engaged in to make money when there was no protection and black market demand for gorilla body parts was in high demand.

There’s no question that the gorillas would not have survived had it not been for the popularity popular attention towards the animals. And, while some will complain that the monetization of the animals is just capitalism corrupting things again, the same income has been providing the resources to both protect the gorillas as well as help them grow in numbers.

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Whales Adopt Other Whales, Even Between Species

Shannon Jackson

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Do animals adopt young of other species? It’s been known to happen among canines as well as raptors. However, for the first time, marine scientists have now confirmed whales are willing to adopt the young of different whale species as well.

As it turns out, an orphaned humpback whale has found a new parental figure with a southern right whale, completely mixing two different breeds of whale. Granted, both are large sea mammals, both breathe air and generally consume the same food groups, and they are technically both whales. But in the animal world, the differences are as distinct as a horse to a cow or a dog to a black bear. However, there the pair were, swimming together and clearly bonded right off the coast of an Esperance beach. From the researcher’s perspective, the answer is clear; the adult southern whale has adopted the young and clearly smaller humpback whale.

Interestingly, the difference was caught immediately. Instead, it was Jess Wohling going over her work on a recent photography shoot who figured out what she was looking at was two different whales acting like mother and pup. At first, Wohling thought there was a camera glitch or a bad light exposure. However, as she studied the digital images from her camera, it became very clear, two different whales were swimming next to each other in tandem or like a parent and child whale pod. With the detail captured by the camera, Wohling compared the aspects of her image to whale images on the Internet, and she confirmed her hunch.

At that point, Wohling transmitted the digital image files to a whale researcher she knew, Katy Fannei. Looking at the images, Fannei not only confirmed Wohling’s assumption, she was also shocked by the documented behavior and pretty much floored. The news hit the digital wire immediately as Fannei started sharing the news with everyone she knew in her professional circle. Everyone who got the communication and images, including researchers with far more experience than Fannei were also shocked by the apparent adoption behavior.

While it is quite possible for southern right whales to come into contact with humpback whales, they almost never converge with each other for any extended period of time. A lot of new hypotheses started getting thrown around. Was the southern right whale a female in mothering mode? Maybe it lost its own pup and the timing of finding a stray humpback child was a coincidence, or maybe some sort of protection in company perspective was going on. Most agreed on the idea of adoption taking place. Again, this wasn’t unheard of in other species. Recently, an eagle pair adopted a falcon fledgling in Canada and have been raising it along with their eaglets.

The key behavior pattern arguing for adoption involves the close positioning of the humpback pup to the adult southern right whale in the water. It literally looks like a mother and child whale behavior. The major filter now is determining whether the pair are already tracked somewhere in the known southern right whale database the researchers use. If not, then the discovery will represent a unique and new biological finding.

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America’s Single Remaining Hyena Born in Captivity Born in Mid-October 2022

Renee Yates

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Most people think of hyenas as scavengers and vicious animals that dying creatures have to fend off in the African Serengeti. The last thing the majority of people take into account is what a baby hyena pup might look like. However, as it turns out, folks in Hattiesburg are going to get a front row seat. Their local zoo is now the proud owner of a new pup.

Per the Hattiesburg American, the zoo’s local hyenas, spotted variety, gave birth to a new cub. There was only one born, but the parents, Pili and Niru, are doting on it. The cub arrived in mid-October, and probably broke history by doing so, now being the single living hyena born in U.S. captivity. All others have passed and those that are in zoos originally came from the wild.

In typical situations in the wild, a birth would include anywhere from a pair to four cubs at a time. That said, more than half die before they even have a chance in the wild. Worse, the mortality rate for the mothers is extremely high, with surviving females being the great majority that produce most of the cubs. In short, the first cub has the highest possibility of being fatal for the mother hyena.

Kristin Moore, representing the Hattiesburg Zoo, described the cub weighing in at 3.2 pounds the day after it was born. By a week later, it had gained an additional pound and some in weight, a positive sign. However, the zoo staff are extremely cautious and not jumping the gun. The mother is isolated with the cub to protect it, and the father has only had general exposure to the baby hyena in case he decides to attack it. Fortunately, Niru was very calm about the matter, not showing any signs of aggression but safely separated from the cub by a mesh.

To give the mother hyena, Pili, and the cub time to relax and stay healthy, their den and exposure for now is closed off from zoo guests as a public exhibit. Once the pup has gained enough size and strength, the conditions will change accordingly. The Zoo, through social media and the new PR wire, requests that Hattiesburg patrons be patient until mother and cub have clearly passed the danger stage in the newborn’s growth. Once acclimated and established, the cub and mother will then be weaned back to regular public display in the months ahead.

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Promoting Women Scientists on Wikipedia

Kelly Taylor

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If someone said they were going to write a website post on every woman scientist and put it on the Internet, some folks might raise an eyebrow, wondering why and if the person was being a bit of a freak. However, Jessica Wade didn’t bother to make a big deal out of what she was doing. Instead, she just started writing and posting, using Wikipedia as her platform and an easy-to-access environment. What was the 33-year-old up to? Simple, utilizing free resources that anyone could access and, more importantly, anyone could see the results on the Internet, she personally wrote and posted the biographies of over one thousand women scientists active in research and science today.

Since she started, Wade has completed and posted over 1,600 entries on Wikipedia, a platform well-known for its tools that allow anyone to post information in an encyclopedia-style environment. Readers can then search the database and find information, knowledge, reference, and links provided by fellow users and curated on an ongoing basis by folks looking at the information and correcting it. Unfortunately, because Wikipedia is so open to anyone editing the information, it is not considered in academia or any other professional circles as a good reference source. However, the site does provide an easy-to-search system where folks can find information about people, places, things and events and find recognized links through those posts that are on accepted sites of research as well.

Jessica Wade was no stranger to Wikipedia before she started the women scientists project. In fact, she had been a regular and ardent user and poster on Wikipedia a decade earlier in her twenties. In that time window she realized much of the scientific recognition world was very one-sided. Scientists who were women or minorities were not getting their fair moment in the spotlight. So, regardless of what employers or the formal scientific halls promoted, Wade was going to make sure “other” scientists got more exposure online.

The project started with a few dozen posts. Then she got to one hundred, and eventually Wade’s work started to rack up over 500 different entries. The founder of Wikipedia recognized her work, and Wade started to add various awards to her own name for her tireless work documenting “other” scientists in a systematic manner. That said, not everyone was pleased. A number of fellow Wikipedia posters, as well as some likely from groups or organizations upset with Wade upsetting the apple cart, began to edit or delete her posts. Some were extremely influential in the Wikipedia world, giving weight to their edits over her original posts. The common argument was that Wade’s posts included scientists who were not known or famous and therefore should not have been posted as anything worthy of researching. That only fired up Wade even more in her project; it was that very reason for blocking people that caused them to not be recognized in the first place.

Clarice Phelps was a prime example, a woman and African-American scientist who was instrumental in identifying a new element on the periodic table. However, the Phelps post was put up and deleted repeatedly by naysayers. Eventually, Wade’s persistence won out, but she had to literally advocate for the value of Phelp’s work.

In Wade’s opinion, the issue isn’t that only a few women want to pursue science as a career. It’s that the exposure of possibilities for them isn’t wide enough. At least for her part, she’s contributing to reversing that trend. And, in recognition, even Buckingham Palace has recognized Wade for her work that continues today.

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Rescuers Save 275 Parrots That Were Stranded By Hurricane Ian

Kelly Taylor

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LEE COUNTY, Fla. — When authorities asked residents to leave their homes due to the dangerous conditions of the roads – including a fallen bridge that blocked off access to food, fuel and other supplies – partners Will Peratino and Lauren Stepp refused to abandon their Pine Island complex.

The pair, who owns the Malama Manu Sanctuary on the island, would not go without their family of lemurs and birds – 275 parrots, which included some of the planet’s rarest.

Operation Noah’s Ark was created to capture, cage, and transport the birds away from the island on October 4th. The mission was executed in order to convince Peratino and Stepp to leave as well.

As volunteers collected the flock from numerous coops at the sanctuary, Stepp said she would never abandon them. “I can’t leave them behind,” Stepp remarked, saying if they cannot be given food or water, they will die.

Fruit, peanuts and other food provided by wildlife officials will soon be in low supply because of the fallen bridge and lack of gas throughout the island, all caused by Ian. The birds have been depending on these donations as their main source of sustenance.

The hurricane passed over Southwest Florida last weekend, bringing with it 150 mph winds and causing some roads to be inaccessible and islands out of reach. Dangerous flooding was caused by heavy rains and storm surges.

Prior to the storm, the owners of the animal sanctuary ushered their birds indoors to protect them from the severe weather outside.

“We almost drowned when four feet of water filled our house,” Peratino said before crying.

“To ensure that every bird is saved is a difficult task,” said Peratino. “It is almost hard to believe. The assistance we’ve received has been critical, and we are very grateful for it.”

A high number of the birds were collected from homes that couldn’t manage them any longer. Many are used for breeding purposes; however, the primary goal of the rescue missions is to save human life.

Project Dynamo’s founder, Bryan Stern, said his team has saved at least six dogs and three cats Tuesday in a massive rescue mission. Project Dynamo had gathered several boats for the operation.

“Will and Laura have dedicated their lives to the birds, and they’re going through their own hardships from the hurricane,” said Stern. “They don’t need to lose even more.”

The difficulty that the bird sanctuary encountered caught Ghassan Abboud’s interest, and he decided to help. Ghassan is a Chicago dentist who also owns a bird farm on Florida’s east coast. His idea was to get a little boat to take cages from Pine Island over to the mainland. From there, a trailer with air conditioning was used to transfer the birds all the way across Florida to his farm.

He ran into the Project Dynamo crew by chance as they were assisting in the rescue of individuals stranded by the storm’s floodwaters and battered roads.

“I could never come up with a script like this,” Abboud said. “It’s been incredible what these people have accomplished. They pulled together their resources and spared hundreds of birds.”

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European Wildlife Starts to Return

Shannon Jackson

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Read any Western Civilization history book, and you’re bound to come across stories about the abundance of wildlife in Medieval Europe. In fact, the livestock was so plentiful and robust, many territories were cordoned off by kings and lords to protect inventory; disobedience via being caught hunting illegally was a death sentence. Wild boar, huge deer stags, bears and massive dire wolves were common in song and poems, as well as a massive diet of rabbits on everyone’s menu. However, today, one would be hard-pressed to find a bear, and the boars that show up in French woods seem to favor the puny side if they are seen at all. What happened?

Unfortunately, people and development have killed off a lot of the wildlife over the centuries. Europe even had its own form of bison before written records began to be produced, but they were pretty much extinct by the Roman age. Worldwide, the same story repeated itself, with the last big herds in the U.S. plains disappearing after the Indian Wars and the mid 1800s. However, despite hunting and fur-trades, the big decimator was man’s insatiable need to wipe out forests. That in Europe was the death-knell for numerous species that depended on the woods for cover, shelter and food.

The proof is in the records that exist. The mammals that were identified on the walls of prehistoric French caves were massive creatures. One unit easily fed an entire family clan and then some. However, by the time the serfs were coaxing cows across poorly tilled fields in Europe, cattle were far smaller. Domesticated, mild and constrained, the mammals of the Middle Ages were miniscule compared to their ancestors.

Conservation programs today are the source of modern-day miracles. From country to country, government-funded programs have been putting decades of field work and research into trying to bring back native species to their various territories, from blue-winged butterflies in England to otters, turtles and badgers in continental Europe. And, amazingly, the work is starting to pay off as well. Statistically, multiple mammal species in the wild are finally seeing their first substantial population increases in half a century.

Of course, these reintroductions take a careful balance. Multiple cases in science and biology can be referred to where the introduction of a “new” species caused more harm than good. Invasive species to what now exists can wreak serious havoc locally when they have no known predator or control.

So, what does all the growth mean for Europe today? While it won’t come close to the amazing stories recorded from history, the reintroduction may very well make the common impossible actually happen again. That is, being able to walk the countryside and actually see wildlife again doing what wildlife does on its own. When these sightings occur, it’s a significant win for the continent as well as all the hard work that made it happen.

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